Fostering a culture of continuous improvement is a complex challenge that varies across industries. In the digital age, software solutions are starting to have a real impact on company culture. Yet it’s important to keep the advantages of software solutions in perspective.
Despite what some companies may claim, software is limited in many ways. And there is a perfectly simple reason for this limitation: software is NOT a solution.
What Software Can't Do
For too long, software has been mislabeled, and it’s starting to create confusion. It may seem counterintuitive for a software company to talk about the limits of digital solutions, but our industry has a history of over promising what software is capable of.
‘Solutions’ are the Problem
There is nothing inherently wrong with labeling features as ‘solutions’, we do it. If a software feature helps solve a problem, then calling it a solution is accurate.
The problem is that solutions imply immediate success. Solutions guarantee results. Solutions are the things left after a problem has been fixed. Labeling software as a “digital solution” is a misnomer of massive proportions because it takes humans out of the equation. Finding success with digital tools requires a strategic and personal approach.
What may seem trivial, is rooted in an outdated perspective that’s in desperate need of refurbishment. Tools imply that you ultimately have to do the work yourself, while solutions imply that the work is already done. This is increasingly important for manufacturers as we move towards Industry 4.0.
Digital tools can help create environments that foster a continuous improvement culture to its highest potential. But sometimes, digital solutions can kill continuous improvement efforts before they even start.
What Software Can Do
Comprehensive solutions imply that the employees are not crucial to the improvement process. Why ask for feedback and suggestions when you have an “advanced digital analytics solution” that can do it all for you? But technology can’t do it all for you, at least not yet.
By acknowledging the limitations of the software tools at your disposal you actually become more effective.
Here’s another counterintuitive idea — By acknowledging the limitations of the software tools at your disposal you actually become more effective.
That’s what software truly is — a tool.
Tools Provide Opportunity, Not Success
Tools are a means to solve problems, but not all on their own—they still require skilled professionals to use them properly. Tools don’t guarantee success, but provide the opportunity for success.
Below we’ve listed four opportunities where digital tools can help create a culture of continuous improvement, and the necessary human components for successful implementation.
How Software Fosters a Continuous Improvement Culture
1. Removing Barriers
Companies that keep information open and accessible allow their employees to feel more engaged. Digital tools allow companies to share resources company-wide, reducing friction by creating the opportunity to easily provide feedback.
The Human Factor: Successfully utilizing a collaborative digital tool requires managers to give employees easy access during their daily tasks. This investment shows that management is serious about hearing what employees have to say, and value their opinions.
Small improvements are central to any Lean Manufacturing program, ignoring them is one of the worst things management can do. Many times when small improvements (Kaizen) are made, those efforts go unnoticed. Digital tools make recognition easy by providing a company-wide platform to highlight achievements, small or large.
The Human Factor: Peer validation is great for boosting confidence. Digital tools can give recognition to people that deserve it, but it’s up to management to lead by example and become the pioneers of positive feedback.
In order for continuous improvement to be effective, it needs to be prevalent across the entire organization. All employees need to feel that continuous improvement efforts are relevant to their jobs and that their contributions matter. Without this, employees won’t feel responsible for advancing the company and dismiss improvement projects as “someone else's job.” Digital tools help level the playing field and make responsibility more transparent.
The Human Factor: While digital tools can provide transparency, making tasks relevant to more employees requires company-wide support. This a combined effort, including company announcements, leading by example, and continuously acknowledging that no team is successful without the help of others.
As many of us know, simply asking employees to “improve the company” isn’t enough, this question is too large to allow for real, pragmatic and actionable feedback.
Digital tools give everyone the ability to provide feedback anywhere their work takes them. Employees don’t have to wait for quarterly meetings or suggestion boxes to provide feedback, they can use digital tools to discuss problems and submit feedback for solutions right away. Not only is this more efficient, but it allows key insights to be captured in the proper context, instead of a conference room.
The Human Factor: As any manager with an empty suggestion box knows, people take coaxing to feel comfortable enough to be open and honest with their superiors. If feedback is rejected too quickly, suggestions will stop coming in. Managers need to be responsible for acknowledging suggestions as valued contributions. Remember, even bad suggestions have a purpose.